How to live without electricity in a heatwave

Thanks to a freak storm bearing a name no one recognized, Washingtonians are being thrust into figuring out how to live without electricity.  The Derecho not only created a post-apocalyptic scene around town, it also led to some pre-industrial conditions.  Hundreds of thousands of people were without power.  In the middle of a heat wave.  The worst heat wave without electricity


I feel a little bad commenting on these circumstances since I still have power, and a gorgeous ceiling fan is whirring over my head.  But I do think that I have some experience to bring to bear for those suffering through less ideal conditions. First, I was a Peace Corps volunteer from 1998 to 2000 in  Morocco.  Second, we lived without electricity in downtown DC, and didn’t have a fridge for three years, from 2007 to 2010, in order to avoid patronizing the utility that had the nerve to tell my husband that I “get upset easily.”


But that is a longer story.  Today I plan to just share some tips on how to live in a heat wave without electricity.  This is not so different from my post last week about beating the heat while beating back global warming.


1- Get subterranean if you can.  It’s cool in the basement, or it’s even cool if you can go down one flight of stairs somehow.


2- Go to a museum.  Or a movie.  Or the pool.  Or all three.  It’s just too hot in the house during peak hours of heat in the mid afternoon. Communal air conditioning is available all around you.  Don’t forget to charge your phone while you’re out.


3- Block the sun.  Make the house as cool as you can with shades and insulation.  Learn the quirks of you home and how to keep the sun out.  Use sheets  and tacks if you don’t own blinds- the thicker the better.


4- Eat non-perishable food.  What doesn’t need a fridge?  Pasta, rice, beans, barley, dried fruit, and eggs, are just a few options.  Cook with oil, not butter if you have a gas camping stove to cook with.  A sun oven makes beans and rice really well.


5- Eat what you buy, if it is perishable.  If you buy a pint of ice cream eat it.  If you buy a six pack, drink it.  Ordered take out?  Finish it.  Seriously, this is the best part of living without electricity, it gives you license to indulge a bit in this area.


6- Get wet.  Wet your sheets before you got to bed. Just do it with water, and not with the liquid your toddler would wet his bed with.  You’ll stay much cooler once you get over the odd feeling of having wet sheets on you.


7- Share with your neighbors.  If you have too much in the fridge, give some away.  It’s as good a time as any to meet your neighbors.


8- Wash your clothes in the tub and dry them on a line.  Just clean your feet and then stomp on your clothes with a bit of soap.  Rinse, stomp, and declare victory.  Wash socks by putting them on your hands like mittens, and washing your hands. Remember that a worn sock is a dirty sock, so it’s probably wise to avoid socks altogether in the heat.


9- Relax.  Don’t run around in the heat.  Get a glass of water and find the coolest spot to sit.


10- Open doors and windows during cooler hours and shut them during hotter hours.    It’s usually coolest at dawn, so get up early to throw open those windows.  Of course, in DC that’s also peak mosquito hour, so be sure you have screens!


Everyone’s been camping, and living in your house without electricity isn’t that different.   It can be a lot of fun, and it certainly makes for a good story for the kids when they grow up!

About Keya Chatterjee

Keya Chatterjee is a Climate Change and Environment expert, and Director for International Climate Policy at World Wildlife Fund. Her work focuses on the environmental crisis facing the planet, and what policies and measures should be taken to ameliorate the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Keya’s commentary on climate change policy and sustainability issues has been quoted in dozens of media outlets including USA Today, CNN, and NBC Nightly News. Keya resides in Washington, DC with her husband Andrew and her son Siddharth. She enjoys practicing yoga, biking, and spending time with her friends and family. She is working on a book about how to have a baby without raising your carbon footprint to be published in 2013 by Ig Publishing. Keep up with Keya’s writing on the nexus of climate change activism and motherhood at


4 thoughts on “How to live without electricity in a heatwave”

  1. Keya, this is a very helpful article. What would you recommend for people who are on a well, and have no water when there is no electricity?

  2. Hi Jani,

    I always try to distinguish between things that I ‘want’ and things that I ‘need,’ and water is definitely in the ‘need’ category!!!

    I recommend trying to keep a few gallons of water for emergencies (at least five gallons, and more if you want to be able to flush your toilet and bathe). I found that I could manage on about a quarter gallon a day per person if I was very careful with how much water I used to brush my teeth and wash up.

    If you have a water source nearby– a creek, a river, etc.– then you can treat the water and drinking. My favorite option is a small hand pump for water filtration, that is usually used for camping. If you don’t have that then you can always put 10 drops of bleach in each gallon of water and let it sit for a few hours.

    Being without water is much harder than just being without electricity, so it’s really important that people with well water have a plan and a kit for extended power outages.

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